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Yellowstone's Josh Lucas Reflects on the Loneliness of Flashbacks and the True Nature of John Dutton

And yes, he'd like his own prequel spin-off, please.

Lauren Piester

Josh Lucas may not be a series regular cast member on Yellowstone, but he might just understand the showbetter than anyone. The actor has played young John Dutton since the first season of the Paramount Network hit, but he hasn't really gotten a chance to shine until Season 5, as current John (Kevin Costner) takes time to reflect on the life he used to live, and the life he's still trying to preserve. Lucas' John is a different man, a ruthless man, in a very different place in his life. And perfecting that version of the iconic character has forced Lucas to dig deep into the lore of the show in a way that perhaps no one other than Taylor Sheridan ever has. He might even know more than Kevin Costner, because Costner has only ever had to play all of John, and Lucas has to pick apart the pieces of John that have always been there, vs. the ones that have only come from age. 

"If you look at the scenes with Kevin where he's sitting on the porch, reflecting…I don't think young John is doing that much," Lucas tells TV Guide. "I think he's just living, and it's a remarkable difference between them." 

It may or may not surprise you, but when he's playing John, Lucas isn't necessarily trying to emulate Costner. It took Costner a while, he recalls, to figure out exactly what voice John would speak in, and it's a character that developed as the show evolved. John Dutton is actually a lot more like Taylor Sheridan, and that's who Lucas has taken more of his inspiration from. In fact, Lucas has barely spent time with Costner, or the rest of the main cast, which has left him feeling a little bit alone as he leads his little group of ranching extras. 

"I don't want to say I feel sad about it or jealous about it, but that's kind of what I feel, because there's an energy," he says. "They all have lived together for five years. They're a family. There's a tightness. There's a love there."  

Lucas was fascinated by that closeness, and below he explains to TV Guide what he's learned about the show's success, both on set and on screen. 

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So tell me all the secrets of playing Kevin Costner.
Josh Lucas: The secret? I don't know that there's a secret. What is the challenge or the responsibility is the voice, right? And look, Kevin doesn't speak in that voice. If you go back and watch the first season—which I watched all 40 hours obsessively before I started the fifth season—you hear Kevin sort of morph into John as the season goes on, and even found it further in Season 2. He's really developing and growing and building John Dutton, so that's where I felt like I gotta get that, and I gotta get the movement right. I gotta get the weight and the danger and the different things that make John Dutton so interesting. And it's not who Kevin is. Kevin created this guy, but I can also tell you that part of it is that Kevin knows he's playing some version of Taylor Sheridan, too. You spend time with Taylor and you go to cowboy camp and you spend time around him…I also felt like I could steal some things from Taylor. 

Were there times where the three of you got to hang out? Or did you get to spend time with just Kevin and just Taylor? 
: I never spent time with Kevin. I heard Harrison Ford saying about 1923 that he's never talked to Kevin either, because the phrase I think he said is, "I have to forge my own path." And in a way, I thought about this too. I would have never met Kevin's version of John. They might live in a dream together, but in reality they are separated by 20 years of life. I spent more time with Taylor by far where we would have these conversations about who is John in 1993? What was it that was driving him? It was a very interesting—and I'll be honest, pressure-filled—responsibility to get it right, to make sure that I didn't let Taylor down, I didn't let Kevin down, and I didn't let, more importantly, the audience down. 

Were you especially feeling the pressure coming in knowing that there was going to be a lot more of you this season?
Lucas: Without a doubt. I genuinely felt [so much pressure]. Look, there's no doubt that it has to do with the success of the show, but one of the most surprising things for me about this experience is if you go to the center of Yellowstone and you spend time with these actors and this crew, there is a passion and obsession about what they feel towards Taylor, and what they feel towards the writing, what they feel towards the ranch and the story. I've never experienced anything like that before from a film production or a television production. Mostly when you're on a show, after a couple years, people get bored of it. I feel like the exact opposite has happened here. The crew and the team of people involved are more passionate about it now than they were even five years ago, and it's not an easy show to make. It's very, very hard physically. The nature of it can be daunting in terms of the fires and floods and grizzly bears, all this stuff in the show that you think is sort of fantastical. It's all the stuff we fight every day to make the show happen. All of these people, they're not just still there, but they love it. They love making it. They're a family that's super tight now. 

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So then what's that like for you, since you don't get to make the regular show? Do you feel like you're making your own show? 
Lucas: Always. This is a weird story, but one of the guys I met on Season 1, when I saw him earlier this year at cowboy camp, he said something to me. He said "We would die for each other." I was like, that's crazy. You're making a TV show. But when I was there shooting for the rest of the season, I think that's what it feels like. There's something that is unusual in how much they care about each other. The thing I take about the show is that it's a love story. It's a love story about a family, but it's a love story about a land and a place that they want to protect forever and give to their future generations. There's an incredible love story there, and I can tell you that's what I feel from the crew and the cast. For me to come in and do my little part of it sometimes feels a little lonely because we're not there yet. We're still in our own little isolated bubble, but you know where you gotta go and you know what you've got to try and create. I guess I do feel a lot of responsibility, that's for sure. 

Josh Lucas, Yellowstone

Josh Lucas, Yellowstone


How do you keep your John and Kevin's John straight in your mind?
Lucas: Well, part of it is conversations with Taylor and part of it is just knowing the material, and part of it is that you see him grow and shift and you see the pain he has been through with the loss of his wife and what that's done to the family. His world has changed, but he still has this incredible love for this place. This is what I would say. John is a cowboy. He loves being a cowboy. He loves being on that land and he so desperately wants to not just protect it for his own self interest but for his own belief in the nature and where he wants it to stay for generations to come, and the John that Kevin is playing is losing it. It's being taken away from him, and the threat of it is so much more existential the older he's gotten. So I try and understand that. Someone asked me a great question about how young John would feel about old John. I said I think he would be a bit sad for him because of the idea that he's got to go somewhere and be a governor and not be able to be a cowboy and not be able to be on horseback every day. Young John is taking care of his world in a much more tactile way, more hands on than he is when he's older. 

You do kind of get a sense that young John is on top of the world and old John has lost that a bit.
Lucas: I think that's true in a way. I think young John is much more dangerous and more virile and more alive and more angry. His emotional life is just in such an active turmoil, and I think what's interesting about what Kevin is doing is that he's in a more reflective place, a much more emotional reality, and one that is much more calm. I love those scenes with Kevin and his grandson, when they go out and talk about life, or even the scenes between Rip and Kevin. What you'll see in [upcoming episodes] are conversations between young Rip and young John, and they're very informative about how these guys' loyalty developed, that's for sure.

What do you think people need to be taking away from the flashbacks as they watch them this season?
Lucas: I think that the same reason I'm fascinated to watch 1883 or 1923 is to see the lineage of these men and this ranch and this land and these relationships, and the women who are so involved with how this place maintains, how it grows, how it falls apart, how it thrives all at the same time…so what I love about the flashbacks, and not just because I'm a part of them, is the same things I love about watching [the prequels]. You see how it was different, and I really enjoy thinking and figuring out how was John in 1993 different from now. And I'd really love to see more scenes when they were happy, when the family was a nuclear family and there wasn't that level of broken tragedy that I think is at least where my version of John is. Older John has worked through that a lot more. He's had new lovers. Young John hasn't had any of that yet, so there's a palpable danger and violence within him. I see him like a young lion. 

So do you have your own Young John spinoff ideas? Have you had any conversations with Taylor? 
: If I were to ask Taylor he would never tell. I don't think even Kevin knows where things are going. It's all in Taylor's mind, and I think he's got it worked out. He's got clear visions of where this story is going, for all seven generations. I would love to do it. I would do it in a nanosecond, but also even if it wasn't me, I would really love to watch it. I would love to see 1973 John, in his early 20s. Imagine seeing the scenes where he falls in love with [his wife] and they have kids.

What is it like for you to be able to piece together the family history as you're watching and filming these scenes, as part of the lineage?
Lucas: I try and feed it, meaning like, when I watched 1883 and one of the Native Americans says to Tim McGraw that he can have the land for seven generations, then they're going to come and take it back. So if you look at the beginning of Season 1 of Yellowstone, that's actually exactly what's happening. So now I can piece together these stories, and I know that in Taylor's mind, it's all quite clear, or at least I think it is. If you look at the graveyard in early scenes of Season 1 or Season 2, there's these characters that are in 1883 and 1923, so I think this is not some story that's evolving because it's successful. I think this is a story that exists inside of Taylor's vision, because he's always known he had seven generations to tell this family story. 

In your mind, does John understand why this land became so important to his family? Does he know the story of Elsa?
Lucas: I think it's in his blood, I really do. I think it's so deeply in his blood. I mean, I think that's why they're willing to die and kill for it. I think, look, you can get into the politics of the show and say there's some idea that we're trying to yearn for the past and the way America was, but I don't know about that. I think it's much more the belief that they are so deeply invested in keeping this land true to the nature and the beauty that is there. And look, you see it in the show. It's real. The parts of Montana that we shoot in are so absolutely spectacular, and the idea that humanity and modern civilization is encroaching on all of it, I think John Dutton, at whatever age he is, I believe there's DNA connections, and I think the land, in this case, is in their blood so deeply that they care about it as much as they do each other. 

So how do you think your John would feel about the place current John has gotten to, where he agreed to put the land in an easement to save it? Like it doesn't even necessarily matter if he owns it at this point?
Lucas: I think that would be troubling for him, because I think what he would really want, and I think what he's trying to protect is the idea that he could pass it on to his grandchildren and his great grandchildren, and keep passing it down. But what I think older John is understanding is that things are changing, and like it or not, you got to evolve and change with it. I do love the scenes in Season 4 when he says "I am the wall that progress crashes against." I think young John doesn't want to fight that war, and I think older John knows you have to fight that war. I think the story we're going to see in 1923 is that there's always been conflict. There's always been a deep passion and a war and a sense to keep this land, and I think the idea that young John would ever be willing to give it up, no matter what the politics involved are, that's where I think the show is boiling on a very interesting political ground. I don't think it's clear cut. I don't think it's red and blue or republican and conservative. I think it's way more complicated than that. 

Yellowstone continues Sundays at 8/7c on Paramount Network. Seasons 1-4 are now available to stream on Peacock.

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